Shelagh Stephenson’s The Memory of Water was a big hit in the West End and won an Olivier Award in 2000. It is a clever choice for a fringe revival and a new production by Causality Theatre at the Lion and Unicorn provides a valuable chance to see it again. Director Eyal Israel gets to show us what he can do, controlling the performances and pacing the whole production admirably.
As three sisters come together for their mother’s funeral, family tensions gush forth. Sarah Borges as Mary shows a perfect understanding of Stephenson’s dark, dry humour. She tells her sister that they don’t argue, they just bicker, but Katherine Jones’ wonderfully unfolding performance as Teresa shows how wrong she is. The youngest sister, Catherine, is played by Jane Stanton, who arrives on stage as a neurotic whirlwind. Instantly establishing her character, she gives the production huge energy. Catherine’s vulnerability is never doubted but Stanton skilfully hints at a canniness that is truly unbalanced. Catherine’s narcissism brings the sisters together both to fight and have fun.
One of the things none of the sisters can agree on is the past. Their memories are fluid. Their deceased mother haunts them and seems to be getting a bad reputation, so it’s great when we get to hear her side of the story. Hilary Burns appears as a vengeful yet wise ghost. Setting the record straight with Mary she speaks out as she never did in life. Playful as well as caring and very much alive, she points out what her daughters deny but is staring at them from the mirror – what has been inherited from her.
As if all this were not meaty enough, memories meet the present for more drama. Teresa’s husband Frank (Dan Mullane) struggles to keep his exhausting wife under control and find space for his own future. Mary’s long-term partner is married. George Richmond-Scott skilfully manages to show a compassion not intended to convince us. His wife is supposed to be sick but, as the ever wry Mary points out after seeing her at a fete, “People don’t get out of their deathbed for a tombola.” Just one great line from a play as rich in humour as it is in emotion and performed with such sensitivity as to make this a night out to remember.
Until 31 July 2010
Written 16 July 2010 for The London Magazine